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United States v. Gray

December 11, 2008

UNITED STATES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KANDIA GRAY, DEFENDANTS .



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Defendant Kandia Gray ("Gray" or "the Defendant") is charged with knowingly and intentionally possessing with intent to distribute in excess of five hundred grams of mixtures and substances containing cocaine, a Schedule II Narcotic Drug Controlled Substance in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 814(a)(1). Gray brought a Motion to Suppress arguing first that the contraband recovered from his vehicle should be suppressed because his vehicle was searched without a warrant and no exception to the warrant requirement applied. Specifically, he argues that 1) he did not commit the alleged traffic violations that police allege gave them probable cause to pull him over; 2) the contraband in his car was not in plain view; and 3) he was arrested prior to the search of the car. Gray further argues that because the search was improper, his resultant statement should be suppressed as a "fruit of the poisonous tree."This Court held a hearing on the Motion to Suppress on February 5, 2008 and February 25, 2008. For the reasons stated below, this Court denies Gray's Motion to Suppress.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On September 17, 2007, Kandia Gray ("Gray" or "the Defendant") drove to the area of 23rd Street and Pulaski in Chicago in order to purchase cocaine from Juan Carlos Garcia ("Garcia"). Gray drove a blue van to the location and parked on 23rd Street and called Garcia by cellphone to tell him that he had arrived. A few minutes later, Garcia came out of the residence and entered the passenger side of Gray's van. Garcia handed Gray a small dark bag with a drawstring drawn closed which contained two kilograms of cocaine. Gray put the bag behind the driver's seat; Garcia left the van, and Gray drove away.

Gray began driving on the Stevenson expressway heading east. While he was driving, DEA agents determined he was speeding and that he failed to use his turning signal when he headed southbound on Pulaski. When he reached the Dan Ryan expressway, Gray switched lanes repeatedly without signaling and was driving over the speed limit. Gray exited at 76th Street. After turning east on 76th Street, an unmarked police car with interior flashing lights and siren pulled up quickly behind Gray's van but Gray did not pull over and stop. Finally, another police vehicle pulled up to the side of Gray's van and made a sharp turn in front of him in order to block him in.

DEA agent, Keith Bakewell ("Agent Bakewell"), jumped out of the Blazer with his weapon drawn and ordered Gray out of the van. Agent Bakewell then opened the front door of Gray's van, pulled him out of the vehicle and placed him in handcuffs and put Gray in the back seat of his car.

While sitting in the car, Gray observed officers looking through his van with flashlights. According to the Agent, he orally recited Miranda rights to Gray in the car at this time and later provided him with a written Miranda form. Gray admits that he was handed a sheet to sign, that the officer explained it to him after he read it and that he signed this document. At some point during the other officers' search of the van, one of the searching officers pointed at Agent Brakewell and using his hands pointed first to his own eyes, then placed his first two fingers in the air and pointed back to the van. Agent Brakewell interpreted this gesturing to mean that he sees a package with two in the car. At this point, Brakewell told Gray that the officers see the package in the car, that they have him now and asked if they could look in the car. Gray agreed to the search according to Agent Brakewell, and this is reflected in his report of the investigation. Gray denies this.

Agents retrieved a black bag containing two "bricks" of cocaine. At that point, Gray was read his rights and was provided his Miranda rights in written form which he initialed. He was then transported to the police station.

Officer Michael Benaitis ("Officer Benaitis") from the Bridgeview Police Department also testified that he conducted surveillance of the drug deal and observed Gray leaving the residence with the black bag. He testified that the thin black bag easily revealed the impression of square objects inside of it the size of kilograms of cocaine. He had experience in drug cases and was familiar with the shape of two "bricks" of cocaine. Officer Benaitis also confirmed that Gray was speeding and changing lanes without signaling until the traffic stop was made. When Agent Bakewell had Gray in his car, it was Officer Benaitis who first looked through the window of the van and saw the same bag he had observed previously during his surveillance lying on the floor of the van. The back windows of the van were tinted but the driver's window and the windshield were not. In spite of the back windows being tinted, Benaitis testified that he could see the black bag against the grey floor because the dome light was on from the door being open. Once he saw the bag, he gestured to Agent Bakewell that he observed the two in the car. Agent Bakewell asked him to wait twice before he finally told Officer Benaitis that he could search the car.

DISCUSSION

The Fourth Amendment exists to safeguard the privacy of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials. See Camara v. Municipal Court of City and County of San Francisco, 387 U.S. 523 U.S. 523, 528 (1967). Therefore, the Fourth Amendment requires that every search or seizure must be "reasonable." See U.S. Const. amend. IV; United States v. Childs, 277 F.3d 947, 950 (7th Cir. 2002). To be reasonable, the search or seizure must be supported by probable cause. See United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 896 (1975) ("To protect . . . privacy from official arbitrariness, the Court always has regarded probable cause as the minimum requirement for a lawful search."). Probable cause exists when the facts and circumstances reasonably support a belief that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. See Holmes v. Village of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2007). Because courts assess probable cause from an objective standpoint, the Court looks at the conclusions that the arresting officer reasonably might have drawn from the information known to him rather than his subjective reasons for acting. See id. Therefore, the Court must determine whether probable cause existed to justify the search and seizure of Gray.

I. Traffic Stop

Gray first alleges that there was no basis to stop his van. He testified that he was driving carefully because he knew there was cocaine in his van and therefore he knew he was not speeding or weaving in and out of lanes. Because there was no basis to stop his van, he claims that the cocaine that was recovered as a result of that stop must be suppressed.

The decision to stop a vehicle for a traffic violation must be objectively reasonable. See Wren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806,810 (1996). The police officer's actions are reasonable if he has probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. See id. "An officer has probable cause for a traffic stop when she has an 'objectively reasonable' basis to believe a traffic law has been violated." United States v. McDonald, 453 F.3d 958, 961-62 (7th Cir. 2006). Although probable cause requires more than a bare suspicion of criminal activity, it does not require evidence sufficient to support a conviction. See Holmes v. Vill. of Hoffman Estates, 511 F.3d 673, 679 (7th Cir. 2007). "The Fourth Amendment's concern ...


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